As the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States continues to skyrocket, Americans are feeling pessimistic about how long it will take life to return to normal, according to ongoing tracking by the Harris Poll.
“Right now we’re seeing a fear of venturing too far away from home and a fear of being in tightly confined spaces,” says John Gerzema, CEO of the Harris Poll.
As of now, over half of Americans (51%) have canceled or postponed upcoming travel plans due to coronavirus (COVID-19). Seventy percent say they would not get on a plane right now, up from 61 percent 10 days ago. Two thirds of respondents (66%) would not dine out at a restaurant, up from 37 percent 10 days ago. This trend is unsurprising, given that many states and municipalities have issued “stay at home” orders and the airline industry is running at reduced capacity.
The Harris Poll results show a notable gender difference, with women taking a more cautious approach compared to men when it comes to their willingness to travel. For example, three quarters of women (77%) are unwilling to travel on an airplane during the outbreak versus six in 10 (62%) men.
For the travel industry, there are indications that it could take months for business to pick up even after the COVID-19 curve flattens, with a significant slice of Americans saying they envision staying relatively close to home for several months following the crisis.
“We’re seeing what looks like a longer-tail effect to get some of these travel options back up to normal,” says Gerzema. In the 30 days after the COVID-19 curve flattens, for example, “people say they are twice as likely to greet people with a handshake than fly on a plane, which I find absolutely just remarkable.”
The chart below shows how long it will take after the curve flattens before a majority of Americans embrace various activities.
When Americans are asked how long after the curve flattens it will be before they will dine out, four in 10 (43%) say they’ll do it within 30 days. The number rises to two thirds (66%) when you include those who will go to a restaurant within three months, and this is true for both men and women surveyed.
One fifth of Americans (21%) say they will stay in a hotel within a month of the curve flattening. Add another 20 percent (41% combined) who say they’ll stay in a hotel within three months. By six months out, six out of 10 (60%) respondents say they’ll visit a hotel. Interestingly, men hit a majority earlier, at the under-three-month mark.
The numbers are a bit more dismal for the airline industry, with only one in six (15%) Americans saying they’ll fly within a month after the government signals that COVID-19 is abating. Another 16 percent (31% combined) say they’ll fly within three months. Worryingly, only about half of Americans (49%) think they’ll be ready to fly at the six-month point. The majority of both men and women hit a majority within four to six months after the curve flattens.
The cruise industry is expected to have the longest road to recovery. Only 10 percent of Americans say they’ll get on a cruise ship within a month of the curve flattening. By the six-month mark, only a quarter (26%) of respondents think they’ll be ready to sail. A combined majority (57%) is hit only when you include people who say it will take a year or more before they will take a cruise. Among men, a majority say they will feel comfortable cruising earlier, within a year of the curve flattening.
It’s important to remember that this is a snapshot taken at a very dark time. “At the moment, getting on a plane or a cruise ship look like high-stakes gambles,” says Gerzema. “Keep in mind that we’re not yet in the trough of this crisis. The wave hasn’t yet crested. So we would expect to see this sort of near-term pessimistic outlook and concern that people have right now.” Some of these concerns may lift, predicts Gerzema, when the country starts to recover from the crisis.
For more information, see the topline results of the latest Harris Poll.
Methodology: This survey was fielded online among a nationally representative sample of 2,023 U.S adults from March 21-22, 2020.
Read this story in Forbes.